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What Law Shall Govern Deep-Sea Mining1

Northcutt Ely
Northcutt Ely
Law Offices of Northcutt Ely, Washington, D.C. The firm is counsel to Ocean Mining Assoc., but the opinions expressed are those of the writer.
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January 01, 1981


The year 1978 may well be the year of decision as to whether the mining of the deep seabed shall be governed by a multi-national treaty, by domestic legislation, or by some sort of mini-treaty among the nations whose people have the technical and financial capabilities to engage in this activity.

There is no propsect whatever that the U.N. Law of the Sea negotiations will produce a treaty under which private investments in deep-sea mining can be safely made. The scheme, set in cement in successive drafts, is premised on the substitution of political control of the seabed, indistinguishable from sovereign ownership, in a new 150-nation authority, for the historic principle of freedom of the seas. It is inimical to private enterprise in every significant respect.

Domestic legislation, now well under way in both houses of the United States Congress, is essentially a licensing scheme based on the sovereign’s power to control the activities of its nationals in the exercise of a high-seas freedom. A significant feature is the offer of reciprocity to nations enacting comparable legislation.

A mini-treaty among the nations capable of carrying out deep-sea mining may well be the ultimate outcome of reciprocal legislation. If not, reciprocal legislation alone would create a de facto regime for self-restraint in the exercise of a freedom of the seas, including the protection of the marine environment as well as avoidance of encroachment on one another’s mining operations.

Industry would have a reasonable chance of attracting the necessary capital for operations under such a scheme.

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AAPG Studies in Geology

Energy Resources of the Pacific Region

Michel T. Halbouty
Michel T. Halbouty
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American Association of Petroleum Geologists
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Publication date:
January 01, 1981




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